Wednesday, December 28, 2011

So Many Translations

I grew up KJV-Only and remember hearing people play up the confusion factor of "so many different translations." While if you took every translation made and put them in a stack, it might seem overwhelming. However, Bible translations aren't made to necessarily stand in parallel with everything that has come before it. A new Bible translation is designed to move the overall translation of the text forward, both in terms of accuracy to the original manuscripts, and proper representation in today's continually evolving languages.
I put together a list of the major translations in use by English-speaking Christians today, excepting sectarian translations such as the NAB(RE) which is(are) designed for Catholics, and of course the NWT which is designed for Jehovah Witnesses. The major, non-sectarian translations in use today are:
ESV (English Standard Version)
HCSB (Holman Christian Standard Bible) This one could almost be considered sectarian as it seems to be a phenomenon of the Southern Baptist Convention.
KJV (King James Version)
NASB (New American Standard Bible)
NIV (New International Version) Variants such as the TNIV, NIVI, and NIrV had minor impact.
NKJV (New King James Version)
NLT (New Living Translation)
NRSV (New Revised Standard Version)

Older versions such as the ASV, RSV, Good News, Darby, Moffatt, etc. have become minor translations, although the RSV is still a go to for Catholics who like neither gender-sensitive translations nor the NAB(RE). Conservatives who like the RSV have moved to the ESV.

So we have only 8 translations today of any real importance. To simplify matters even further, we need to look at the generational shift between versions, to illustrate the evolution of Bible versions, specifically their usage. I can divide our list into three generations, and I'll include the RSV because of it's importance to this task:

The first generation:
RSV
NASB
KJV

The second generation (what users of first generation Bibles moved to):
NRSV (non-conservative RSV users)
ESV (conservative RSV and NASB users)
NKJV (NASB and KJV users)
NIV (KJV users)

This second generation shift (for those who actually made the shift) represents the initial market. In other words, first generation translations lost readership as the second generation Bibles appeared.

The third generation (what users of first generation Bibles moved to):
NLT (NIV users)
HCSB (NIV and NKJV users)
ESV (NIV and NKJV users)

Interestingly, the ESV came around the same rough timeframe as the NLT and HCSB, but filled a niche that primarily catered to conservative RSV users. Having come so late in the game, it also qualifies as third generation for those NIV and NKJV users who trended in a more conservative direction theologically, perhaps some who had jumped ship on the RSV already, given that there was no conservative answer to the NRSV for over a decade.

Ultimately, only the second and third generation Bibles (and the KJV, for special reasons) really find a home in most church settings these days. This leaves us with only seven major translations: KJV, NIV, NRSV, NKJV, ESV, NLT, and HCSB. Not that confusing anymore, is it? Especially if you disqualify the HCSB as an SBC-specific translation, which I am tempted to do, except I don't have enough hard data to be certain.

The NKJV is a special case to me for several reasons. One, it should have replaced the KJV in 99% of the cases where other versions are not suitable. That it hasn't can only be chalked up to sentimentalism and KJVOism and the fact that some people just can't change no matter what. Second, the NKJV was never really given enough credit, in my opinion. It is an excellent translation that stands in rebuke of much silly translation you sometimes see these days even in otherwise respectable versions. I'll also point out that the NKJV is the officially sanctioned New Testament for use in the Eastern Orthodox church.

The NASB users are interesting to me. I can see it as a study Bible when I see people drag it to church and I can tell that is their main Bible I just wonder. While the NASB is written in clear English, it just doesn't read well. How they put themselves through that is beyond me.

Well, enough rabbit trails. I prefer the NRSV myself, even(definately) over the NIV2011, if I had to give it up, I would probably go with the NKJV.

Fundamentalism and the Church at Ephesus Part 3: The Importance of Love

“To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: These are the words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand, who walks among the seven golden lampstands: ‘I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance. I know that you cannot tolerate evildoers; you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them to be false. I also know that you are enduring patiently and bearing up for the sake of my name, and that you have not grown weary. But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. Remember then from what you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent.’”

-Revelation 2:1-5

We come now to the chief criticism Christ lodged against the church at Ephesus—that they had abandoned the love they had at first. It is interesting that in exhorting the Ephesian church to love, he says that they should “do the works [they] did at first”, calling “love” a “work.”
In my time among fundamentalists, the explanation of this criticism capitalized around the concept of “working out of love for God.” The application of this interpretation usually centered on making certain that your ministry involvements were rooted in a love for God, and not mechanical.
However, that interpretation and application is based on the assumption that the “love [they] had at first” is merely a love for God. The text gives no warrant to limit it in this way. The NIV and NLT both render this as “first love”, which I find very suggestive of the two commandments which Christ identified as the greatest of all:

“‘Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?’ ‘He said to him,
‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment.
And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’
On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.’”

-Matthew 22:36-40

All the law and prophets hang on the commandments to love God and your neighbor. This was a message the Pharisees needed to hear. This was a message Ephesus needed to hear. This is a message fundamentalists need to hear.
That this “first love” is combined love for God and others is obvious in two ways. In Matthew 22, Christ groups them into a single category on which the law and prophets depend. Secondly, we know from elsewhere in Scripture that these two loves must go together:

“We love because he first loved us. Those who say, ‘I love God,’ and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen. The commandment we have from him is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also.”

-1 John 4:19-21

Love for God cannot exist separately outside of love for others. The Apostle John understood Christ’s commandment in this way as well.
Many of the independent fundamental Baptists I have been around have attempted to qualify this dual love for God and neighbor by declaring that this condemnation especially concerns evangelism (or “soulwinning”). In other words, the church at Ephesus grew cold in their witness to a lost and dying world. Again, however, this is reading something into the text that is not there. The love we are commanded to have for others extends to all people, not just those in a particular category. Christ said clearly, that we must love our neighbor. If we ask with the lawyer, “And who is my neighbor?” we then recall the story of the Good Samaritan that the concept of “neighbor” extends to everyone we encounter (Luke 10:29-37). Christ could have used a story of preaching and conversion to illustrate neighborly love, but He did not.

Moreover, what we find in Paul’s epistle to the Ephesians that the main love he exhorted them to was love for others in the church:

“I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.
[…]
But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body's growth in building itself up in love.
[…]
Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.”
-Ephesians 4:1-3,15-16,31-32

If the Ephesians struggled with loving brothers and sisters in Christ (at least by the time of the writing of the Revelation to the Apostle Peter), then it is highly likely that their love for God and those outside the church suffered too. Love is love is love; to partition it is to turn it into an insidious form of hatred. Thus, Christ did not need to talk about what kinds of love the Ephesians needed to work on. The Ephesians just needed to LOVE.

To understand how it is that the Ephesian church ceased to love as they ought, we can tie in the previous discussions on this letter. In Part 2, we looked at what the Ephesian church did right, in sticking to the truth and challenging error. In Part 1, we looked at the importance of the unity of Christ’s church universal. The fact that Christ has to challenge them on unity and love in light of their doctrinal strength suggests a picture of this church that matches closely with today’s fundamentalists.

From this letter and the exhortations to unity in the epistle to the Ephesians, we get the picture of a church that has let doctrinal correctness trump Christian love. The Ephesians had evidently engaged in some form of ecclesiastical separation that denied Christ’s ownership of all the churches and the essential unity of the body of Christ. Such separation thrives on an “us vs. them” dynamic which would have trickled down to result in internal discord at Ephesus and an “in or out” view towards the lost.

Such a situation accords well with today’s fundamentalism. Anyone acquainted with fundamentalism has heard derogatory remarks made towards evangelicals (“evanjellyfish”), liberals, and others. This is simply the outworking of ecclesiastical separation where lines have to be drawn and an “us vs. them” dynamic is maintained.

The basis for ecclesiastical separation is a voluntarist, (pseudo-)creedal ecclesiology that defines Christian community not through receiving of God grace, but through mental assent to a set of propositional truths. Therefore, such an ecclesiology has further warrant to prosecute from within those who do not line up with the specific, stated positions of the leadership.

Lastly, in the interest of doctrinal purity, relations with the unbelieving world must be carefully managed. This is why the saved/not saved distinction is so strong. Either you are with us, or not; and if you are with us, you will do things our way. Today’s fundamentalists are highly evangelistic, and consider “born-again” conversions as the ultimate spiritual achievement of the church on earth.

Ultimately, love is conditioned on assent to a specific application and outworking of the gospel without respect to the spiritual consciences and giftings of the believers. If you are unsaved, it is held that your greatest need is to get saved, so any type of social work that is not overtly evangelistic is derided as “social gospel.”

The exact expression of doctrine trumping love in the ancient church at Ephesus may not have exactly matched what we find among today’s fundamentalists, but it, in all likelihood, followed the same trajectory in making love conditional upon acceptance of a particular application of revealed truth.

Monday, December 19, 2011

The Call to Action

When we define ourselves by our associations we mold those associations into our own image. To an extent, an association is always molded by its members. To another extent, such molding is simply a deluded self-projection onto the group. It can be a positive delusion that conveys belonging where it does not exist, or it can be a negative delusion that denies belonging where it does exist. Such self-projection onto the broader group is ultimately unavoidable and can be exploited as a matter of power, being the exploitation of one's own projection to redefine others into your influence, or the exploitation of another's projection to deny the what inconvenient truths it may bring to light. Thus, groups are ever shifting, ever changing, molded and serving the centers of power while disenfranchising the sincere and confounding the honest. So it is in the age of the individual, the tyranny of the institution gives way to the silent mockery of a false association that is only ever defined by the strong who constantly shift the contours of that association to expel the minority. "We are autonomous" and yet "we stand in solidarity"; "We agree on these matters" and yet "we don't agree"; "there is room for you" but "you don't really fit in here." The individual is wont to give up and return to a simpler time, and what passes for thoughtful critique is easily reduced, as deemed necessary, to thoughtless generalities that "no longer apply." Bias then becomes a useful tool in admitting the reality of a situation when the theory has slithered away into the dicey equivocation that plays confidence tricks on the human mind. At some point one must stop and say, "it is so," when others insist it is not. The establishment of reality in the face of plausible falsification is the first courageous step toward action that lifts the individual above the new tyrannies established through the occupation and subsequent subversion of that old association that once guaranteed life and happiness. Our task is then first to understand reality, and then proclaim it against the contrary equivocations of the tyrants, then set ourselves to independently associate and occupy in the face of tyranny. Gone are the days of argument; present with us is the necessity to act, to take, to occupy this world as if it were ours, because it ours, and it is this truth above all that tyranny seeks to blind us to.

Fundamentalists and the Church at Ephesus 2: Standing Against Corruption

“To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: These are the words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand, who walks among the seven golden lampstands: ‘I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance. I know that you cannot tolerate evildoers; you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them to be false. I also know that you are enduring patiently and bearing up for the sake of my name, and that you have not grown weary.’”
-Revelation 2:1-3

The ancient city of Ephesus in the time of the Roman Empire was a city of influence. It was a religious, commercial, and cultural center. The fourth largest city in the Roman Empire, Ephesus was the ruling center of Asia Minor and was regarded as a seat of learning. The library of Celsus and the Temple of Artemis (one of the seven wonders of the ancient world) were there.
Ephesus lay at the west end of one of the main trade routes into Asia and had easy access to two others by water. Much of the commercial activity combined with temple activity to create a symbiotic relationship between commerce and religion. Such relationships were common at that time.
The opposition to Christianity in Ephesus (and many other Hellenistic Roman cities) came from multiple directions. The first obvious opposition involved the fact that pagan worship and practices infiltrated normal, everyday life. In this vein we read in the New Testament about Christians arguing over meat that, while bought in the common market, had been once offered to idols. The markets were often connected to a temple that also functioned as a banking center. The second form of opposition involved the imperial cult—the worship of Caesar. (Sometimes the promoters of this type of worship found the Christians useful as an ally against pagan worship.) The third form of opposition was Epicureanism. The church after Constantine did such a thorough job of silencing the promoters of this philosophy that we tend to underestimate its prevalence during the time of the Apostles.
Such non-Christian influences would have been exceptionally strong in a large, important, metropolitan city like Ephesus. However, the Ephesian church also had to beware of wolves from within, false teaching from false teachers that would destroy the church. Paul warned them:
“From Miletus he sent a message to Ephesus, asking the elders of the church to meet him. When they came to him, he said to them: […] Therefore I declare to you this day that I am not responsible for the blood of any of you, for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole purpose of God. Keep watch over yourselves and over all the flock, of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God that he obtained with the blood of his own Son. I know that after I have gone, savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock. Some even from your own group will come distorting the truth in order to entice the disciples to follow them. Therefore be alert, remembering that for three years I did not cease night or day to warn everyone with tears. And now I commend you to God and to the message of his grace, a message that is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all who are sanctified.”
-Acts 20:17-18a, 26-32

Ephesus had to be on guard, and test those claiming the name of Christ. The stakes were too high. Paganism, worship of false gods, godless philosophies, and heretical doctrine were strong enemies at Ephesus.
Christ starts out by stating “I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance.” “Works” here means “achievement” or “accomplishment.” So then Christ is saying that He knows what the church at Ephesus has accomplished, how they have labored or toiled, and how they have endured patiently. The rest of Christ’s praise will spell out the toil of Ephesus, which begins by declaring “I know that you cannot tolerate evildoers”. The Ephesian church was intolerant of sin and wickedness.
The next praise delivered is, “you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them to be false.” The connotation of the word “apostles” here should not be understood to mean only apostles such as Peter, John, and Paul who were commissioned of Christ directly. The Greek word translated as “apostle” means a messenger, and was applied in the New Testament not only to those we recognize as Apostles but prominent ministers of the church such as Barnabas, Titus, and Epaphroditus. The church at Ephesus tested all who came to teach and to minister to ensure they held a pure gospel untainted with heresy, paganism, or the godless philosophy of the times. Other churches suffered at the hands of false teachers such as the church at Galatia. But Paul had spent two whole years at Ephesus teaching them and later warned them directly to keep watch for this. The Ephesian church was not about to let the same thing happen to them.
Christ has one last praise before beginning his criticism: “I also know that you are enduring patiently and bearing up for the sake of my name, and that you have not grown weary.” Christ commended Ephesus not just for what they were doing, but for their endurance and steadfastness in holding the truth firmly.
Ultimately, the works of the church of Ephesus involved guarding the truth from error and not tolerating sin. In this toil, they were steadfast and strong. One might say the church at Ephesus was stubborn in resisting compromise.
This description fits historic fundamentalism to a tee. As a reaction to modernism, fundamentalism has always insisted on standing for the truth against the tide of error whether cultural or academic. They test Christian leaders to determine if they are holding to the truth or not. Fundamentalism has placed tremendous importance on doctrine and the correct interpretation of Scripture.
Fundamentalists have a reputation for tirelessly preaching against the sin and wickedness of the world. They are not content to achieve doctrinal purity but also desire to achieve holiness and blamelessness before the Lord. This holistic “search for purity” is a defining characteristic of Fundamentalism.
These characteristics were considered praiseworthy by Christ and ought to be considered praiseworthy by us as well. It is easy to be blown about with every wind of doctrine. It is easy to allow sin into our lives. It is also very easy to allow our hearts to grow cold and our zeal for Christ to wane. Historically, fundamentalism has had much to teach the church at large about the need for truth, purity, and endurance.
Even those in the church who strongly disagree with fundamentalism should not consider fundamentalists outside of the body of Christ. For one, that is up to Christ. Secondly, the church should seek to imitate these good qualities—just as much as fundamentalism ought to be willing to learn from other parts of the church.
A complete history of fundamentalism is beyond the scope of this article, but it is important here, when considering what is called “fundamentalism” in the modern day, to recall that the original fundamentalist movement underwent a split in the 1940s. One of the resulting groups, the evangelicals, was not willing to renounce engagement with modernism and from other parts of the church that had accepted modernist thinking to various degrees. The other group, what we recognize as today’s fundamentalists, insisted on secondary separation, not only being unwilling to engage modernism but also being unwilling to associate with those that did.
In the next part, I will explore the pitfalls facing Ephesus and why I believe today’s fundamentalists have fallen into them.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

More Thinking on Peak Oil and the Future

What are some positive outlooks on the Peak Oil scenario?
First, I must say up front that the only way out that does not involve a challenge to our energy usage both now and growing into the future would be the development of fusion power to point where it can be deployed on the electric grid. With such an unlimited power source, you could power the desalination plants to solve our water crises, you could power the electrolysis to generate plenty of hydrogen for other applications including fuel cells for transportation and the continued production of agricultural fertilizers. It would be the perfect solution and the gateway to a truly new and better world.
Unfortunately, fusion (in both hot and cold/LENR varieties) is far from fully developed and proven. It is often said that is has been 20-25 years away for the last 30-40 years. If I could have one wish granted, it would be that fusion would become a feasible and modestly priced power solution immediately.
Short of that, our best hopes lie in solar. Continued work and development on solar materials and installation have the potential to mitigate the peak oil crisis on a very significant level. As a matter of fact, I have installed on my computer a client that is helping the Harvard Clean Energy Project discover new and cheaper solar panel materials. This is distributed computing project that anyone can join. It is truly a race against time.
My hope is that solar power gets widely deployed on a personal level relieving stress on the grid. In other words, I think every home should be equipped with solar panels. It only makes sense in a world of declining fossil fuel supplies.
Solar could POSSIBLY advance far enough to provide the type of unlimited energy that fusion would provide, but I doubt it. Solar isn't a growth strategy, in my opinion. It is a rescue strategy. It has the potential to carry us through difficult declines in fossil fuels. But mankind will absolutely need fusion to continue the kind of growth seen during the age of oil.
As a sidenote, and in relation to yesterday's post, the upcoming US occupation of Saudi Arabia won't mean that the world will be starved of energy. Much of the rest of the world will have progressed or will progress into solar and wind to the point that they can maintain a slightly lower standard of living, combined with oil they are able to obtain. But the US will control the world stage, sharing oil with China as a matter of mutual economic interest, and other allies as it sees fit.
I mentioned Turkey and Japan as rising players on the world stage. Turkey will move away from Europe to fill the void left by Saudi Arabia. It will ally with other Islamic middle eastern nations and provide regional leadership. Japan will likely rise to forefront of green technology, perhaps especially as it relates to automobiles.
If alternative energy solutions don't meet the demand produced by declining fossil fuel supplies, one of the first modern amenities to go will be air travel. It will become extremely expensive, resulting in airline bankruptcies, leaving only specialized charter services to the rich. For the common man, traveling long distances will involve rail or hybrid motorcoach, likely at rates comparable to air travel today.
Our world will strive mightily to maintain modern medicine and information technology and the Internet, with overall success. Increased virtualization of life will be seen as one key to solving our dilemma. Do more online, less in real life.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Peak Oil as a Key to Our Times

Peak Oil is a term used to describe the event where the production of fossil fuels reaches its maximum, where approximately half of all available oil has been pulled out of the earth. Aside from those who believe in the abiotic theory of oil (which is implausible for many reasons) it is widely accepted that fossil fuels are a limited, or non-renewable, resource. As someone put it, there aren't any new dinosaurs.
Some believe that we will continue to make new oil finds to offset the peaking production from existing oil fields. That peak oil is a real phenomenon is easy to see on a national level... the US, for example, hit peak oil production around 1970. The UK hit peak oil production around 1999. Many other nations have peaked as well. Increasingly, we are reliant on middle eastern sources of oil and new, harder to get oil. That we are even discussing the extraction of oil from Canadian tar sands is evidence of how close we are to the end of abundant oil.
The dates for worldwide peak oil have varied. You will often hear 2006 as the date when oil peaked. Many have said we will see peak oil in 2012-2015 or even 2020. The difficulty in identifying peak oil is a result of overinflated reserve numbers from oil producing nations as well as the lagging economic consequences of peak oil. Peak oil will only be obvious in hindsight.
If we are alert, we can see the signs. Oil is the lifeblood of our economy. It is used as fuel for transportation, energy generation, and heating. It is used to create all manner of petrochemical-based products such as medicines, paints, plastics. Fossil fuels in the form of natural gas are used to create the fertilizers which grow our food. So then when our economy outgrows the supply of oil, oil prices skyrocket, and the economy goes into recession or depression. Oil prices drop in response. The economy recovers, and then begins to grow again. Oil prices skyrocket again, and again the economy goes into recession or depression. This occurs because the peak of oil production becomes a plateau for a while as the economy goes through one adjustment after another. At some point, the economy enters an indefinite, never-ending period of wrenching stagflation since the production curve is dropping too much to permit any recovery at all. It's the 1970s all over again--ten times worse, ten times longer.
Much more could be said about Peak Oil but I want to get to my main idea. Peak Oil theorists seem to take it for granted that once we past Peak Oil, it will be obvious and everyone will wake up, only too late. If only! It will not be so. US foreign policy in the middle east has and will continue to be about sustaining America's dominance as it relates to the petrodollar. The Carter doctrine will be taken to ever increasing extremes and times get tougher. The American people will be given new and different villains to hate.
Follow the money, but this time, I encourage you to follow the oil! Iran will continue to be a convenient enemy as proxy for Islamic fundamentalism across the middle east. We will never invade Iran, but we very well may use Iranian-backed meddling in other middle eastern countries as a pretext for invading countries we would never invade otherwise. So here it is, my friends. I predict that by 2020, the US will occupy Saudi Arabia. Post-2015, only Saudi Arabia promises enough oil production to offset the wrenching economic downturn that will occur by then as a result of peak oil-influenced contraction. The war will be sold to us as a means to save Saudi Arabia from Islamic fundamentalism or Iranian control. But it will, like Iraq, be about oil.
A little more about my timeline. We are in the midst of a new normal, economically speaking. After the downturn of 2008 we came up a bit then settled back down, but consistently higher than our lows. We will grow again; indeed we are growing now and have been since June 2011. By the summer of 2012 it will become apparent that things are improving. We will continue to grow (at what rate I cannot tell) until 2014/2015, at which time we will approach the production limit of oil and prices will spike, resulting another market crash in late 2015. The step down effect of this crash will make THAT crash MUCH worse than 2008, resulting in mass unemployment, major bankruptcies, and societal unrest. I do not look forward to 2016 at all.
The timeframe between 2016-2020 will be very troubled, but will most likely include the US occupation of Saudi Arabia as a matter of securing the oil supplies necessary to maintain legitimacy at home and power abroad. It will likely be accomplished under the hand of an extremely nationalistic Republican president who will be elected in 2016. And America will support it and him.
2020-2023 will be the coalescence of a new world order around US economic and military dominance which will surpass even what we have seen until now. Turkey and Japan will rise in stature significantly on the world stage. De facto annexation of a willing Canada by the US is also a possibility due to geopolitical concerns and the oil situation.
My predictions past 2015 could be up to one US presidential term early but more than likely not.

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Fundamentalism and the Church at Ephesus, Part 1: The Unity of Christ’s Body

“‘To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: These are the words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand, who walks among the seven golden lampstands: ‘I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance. I know that you cannot tolerate evildoers; you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them to be false. I also know that you are enduring patiently and bearing up for the sake of my name, and that you have not grown weary. But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. Remember then from what you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent. Yet this is to your credit: you hate the works of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate. Let anyone who has an ear listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches. To everyone who conquers, I will give permission to eat from the tree of life that is in the paradise of God.’”
-Revelation 2:1-7


Fundamentalists have their place among the churches of Christ. It is Christ who is Lord of all and judge of all. Whether one wants to be a fundamentalist or not, that is a different story. To a great degree, the Christian’s choice in this matter depends on a number of factors including where they began to learn of Christ and certain psychological needs—but this is a topic for another time.
In the book of Revelation chapters 2 and 3 we find seven letters addressed to seven churches in Asia Minor: Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea. It has often been posited that these seven churches, in order, represent stages that the church will go through from the time of the apostles to the return of Christ. Whether that is true or not is debatable, but what is certain is that these letters are intended to address seven entirely different churches with entirely different strengths and weaknesses. I believe that we can see parallels between the seven churches of Revelation 2 and 3 and Christian churches today.
Where fundamentalism has taught on these letters, the focus has typically been to smear all other Christian churches as Laodicean and worthless, and to occasionally claim that fundamentalists are like the church at Philadelphia. They would like to see themselves as a Philadelphian remnant in a Laodicean age. It should suffice to simply reply that situation is much more complex than that—there are seven types of churches, not two; and anyone with a passing familiarity with fundamentalism knows better than to accuse them of the type of brotherly love that the Philadelphian church was commended for!
Moving past any misinterpretations of the seven letters to the churches, we see a pattern in each letter. There is a description of Christ that is particularly relevant to the church, praises for what the church is doing well, warnings over things that need to corrected, and finally, an eternal promise that fulfills what the church is seeking. Each of the seven letters follows this pattern except for the letter to Philadelphia, which contains no warnings.
It is my belief that the church at Ephesus is representative of today’s fundamentalist churches. In a series of articles, I hope to shed light on the spiritual condition of fundamentalism in light of what Christ had to say to Ephesus. In this article, we will examine the identification of Christ as the steward of the churches.
Christ begins by reminding the Ephesian church that He fellowships with all of the churches—He “holds the seven stars in his right hand [and] walks among the seven golden lampstands”. This is not the only time in Scripture were the Ephesians are reminded of this truth. In Ephesians 2:17-22, the Apostle Paul tells them:

“So he came and proclaimed peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near; for through him both of us have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. In him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are built together spiritually into a dwelling place for God.”

The unity discussed here is more than unity within a single assembly. Paul begins by teaching that through Christ, both he and the Ephesians have access to the Father by one Spirit. Because of this, all of us in Christ are being “built together” as a “whole structure” with Christ as the “cornerstone”.
(Some fundamentalists will object to the idea of a “universal” church and a refutation of such arguments will have to wait for another time. However it is already pretty easy to see that the New Testament teaches a “universal” church.)
Paul elaborates further in Ephesians 4:1-7:

“I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all. But each of us was given grace according to the measure of Christ's gift.”

“One body and one Spirit”—Christians who have access to the Father through “one Spirit” also constitute “one body”, as seen here and in Ephesians 2. The church of Christ was always intended to be ecumenical in nature—the universal membership of her members in a relationship with the Father through the Son by the Spirit. The Gospel is supposed to be a unifying force.

“A life worthy” of the Christian calling is one that bears others in love, and maintains unity and peace. The Ephesians needed to be reminded of the necessity of the unity of the universal church.
Today’s fundamentalists need the same reminder. Ecumenism is derided by fundamentalists, with some of them even rejecting the concept of a “universal” church. Some Baptist fundamentalists go even further and claim that the only legitimate churches are those Baptist churches that have descended in an unbroken line from apostolic times.
The Gospel is the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ which allows us to enter into a relationship with the Father through the Son by the Spirit. It is this relationship that ensures our membership in the body, not any creed or code of conduct. It is a relationship that is begun under the conviction and enlightenment of the Spirit of God and continued in the same manner. This enlightenment involves sin, and righteousness, and judgment. It manifests as faith in Christ and works toward men.
Both faith and the works are the manifestation of being indwelt with the Spirit of God. Pitting “works salvation” against “grace salvation” is missing the broader reality of our salvation being brought to pass through birth into God’s family through the Spirit. Salvation is wrought neither by works nor by mental assertion to propositional truth but by the regenerating power of the Spirit of God. Works and faith follow this regeneration. We are saved by an initial act of grace on God’s part, not faith or works (Ephesians 2:8-10; Titus 2:11-14).
Being a part of the family of God is enough to command unity with others who have been regenerated in like manner. It is truly the baptism of the Spirit that unites as one. Denominational divisions may be necessary to provide order within each local assembly, as each denomination follows different traditions and interpretations. However there is no excuse for inter-denominational condemnation.
Ultimately, the Lord Jesus Christ will bring every church into judgment. Christ warns every church except Philadelphia that unless they repent, He will remove their “lampstand from its place”. Fundamentalist churches stand in danger of this as much as any other church.